Jose Mourinho has praised Eden Hazard for the manner in which the Belgian has sought to improve his game during the first part of the season.
The Blues travel to Hull City this lunchtime, knowing a win would take us to the top of the Barclays Premier League table, at least until Manchester City play Newcastle tomorrow, and there is little doubt our chances of success at the KC Stadium will increase if Hazard is able to reproduce the type of form which has seen him shine in the last month.
After a wonderful individual display in the 4-3 win at Sunderland, where he netted a brace, Hazard then scored the only goal of the game as we beat Swansea on Boxing Day, before a standout performance – and another goal – in the 2-1 win against Liverpool.
‘He’s progressing in everything,’ said Mourinho. ‘He was known as one of the worst trainers; he’s now become, not one of the best, but a good professional in training. He was known as having lots of quality, which he’s kept, but not being very productive, and at the same time he didn’t have that defensive culture, of knowing how to defend as a team.
‘He now works very hard for the team, he uses his initiative in the game and he’s not a player who does a fantastic action and then disappears from the game for 30 minutes. He’s now trying all the time to be influential in our game.
‘He has the responsibility of being a top player so knows he has to be there for his team in every match. Even at Derby, he was on the bench, he came on for the last 30 minutes and immediately you could feel he was on the pitch, so this is the kind of player we want.
‘It’s been a fantastic evolution for him, the next phase is to play Champions League knockout phase, which brings a lot of pressure on him because it’s knockout. Also he will have the experience of playing at the World Cup, which will be fantastic for him.’
The manager revealed how he has noticed a change in Hazard’s approach to training from earlier in the season, and outlined how he has pushed the winger to strive for more.
‘He was training to have some fun; he’s a funny boy, a funny kid, always smiling, always laughing and having a joke,’ Mourinho explained. ‘He didn’t have top concentration, it wasn’t a training session looking for an evolution or a training session looking to improve, but at this moment it’s completely different.
‘He’s trying to improve collectively and improve his individual qualities. Yesterday, he was working on shooting from positions where he normally appears in the games, specific points where he has chances to shoot at goal.
‘Conversations, feedback, demanding more, showing him the way I think is the right way, and even if it isn’t the right way it’s the way he has to follow. I think he’s happy, I think he feels good, I think he feels the evolution in his approach to the game.
‘It’s also important we are close to the title because knowing you are there brings a different pressure. You improve with the pressure, if we are 20 points behind Arsenal and he scores three goals it means nothing. If he’s one or two points behind and scores the winning goal in a victory which pushes you closer to the top that means something.’
While Hazard only turned 23 earlier this week, he has no shortage of older, more experienced players to learn from within the squad.
Three of those – John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole – will be out of contract in the summer, but Mourinho sees no reason to panic, citing their reversal in fortunes on the pitch as a sign of their importance to the side.
‘They are good examples, they are good professionals, they train really hard and like to win,’ said the Chelsea manager. ‘They had a time of big improvement when they were 25, 26, 27, so now they have that mentality it’s easier for them to support the young boys.
‘They are calm, we are calm, we know they want to do well this season and want to stay at the club. They know the respect we have for them, they know the contribution they are giving this season, it’s not the same as last season where there were many doubts about Lampard because he wasn’t playing and John because he wasn’t playing, that’s not around so everything is calm, no problem.’